Under pressure from researchers, the U.S. Commerce Department has retreated from new export-control rules that would have made it harder for some foreign scientists to do research in the United States. Instead, the department has decided to appoint a committee of officials from government, industry, and academia to take a comprehensive look at policies aimed at keeping sensitive technologies from falling into the wrong hands. The decision allows universities to continue including foreign nationals in campus research without obtaining export licenses.
In May 2005, the Commerce Department published an "advance notice of proposed rulemaking" in the Federal Register indicating that it was going to implement regulatory changes recommended by the department's Inspector General (IG) to control sensitive technologies more effectively. One of the changes would require universities to obtain export licenses before employing citizens from certain countries including India, China, and Russia. The notice sparked a protest from the academic community (Science, 13 May 2005, p. 938), which argued that such rules would hinder research.
Based on that response, "we thought it would be better to step back from changing this regulation or that and consider more broadly how best to balance national security with openness in research," says David McCormick, under secretary of commerce for industry and security. Among other things, the new committee will review the assumptions underlying current policy on deemed exports and look at how controls on sensitive technologies relate to visa regulations. It will submit its recommendations within a year.
John Vaughn, interim president of the Association of American Universities, welcomes the move. "The original IG recommendations would not only have disrupted research but would have been tantamount to hanging a sign in our university laboratories saying 'Top International Talent Not Welcome,' " he says.